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Rescued from ISIS: The Gripping True Story of How a Father Saved His Son Hardcover – August 8, 2017
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"[Bontinck] writes of his harrowing quest to find his radicalized son, who joined a group of ISIS terrorists. . . . Bontinck’s account is a loving and revealing tribute to the father-son bond." ―Publishers Weekly starred review
"Mr. Bontinck is the rare type of individual who understands that simply hoping for evil and injustice in the world to politely go away is a fatuous mindset at best and a life threatening one at worst. Listen closely to what he is saying. Ignore him at your own risk." ―Douglas Laux, former CIA operations officer and New York Times bestselling author of Left of Boom
"Equally thrilling and alarming, Rescued from ISIS is a true story that reads like Not Without My Daughter meets Taken. Dimitri Bontinck is incredibly courageous and the story of how he traveled to Syria to save his son from Muslim extremists resonates long after I turned the final page. Buy this book!" ―Bruce Porter, New York Times bestselling author of Blow and Snatched
About the Author
DIMITRI BONTINCK is a former soldier for the Belgian army, UN peacekeeper in Slovenia, and security officer who in 2013 discovered that his teenaged son had traveled to Syria to join the group that later became ISIS. Bontinck traveled to Syria and, after several dangerous encounters with ISIS jihadis, rescued his son from the terrorist group, chronicling his experiences in Rescued from ISIS: The Gripping True Story of How a Father Saved His Son. Since then, he's traveled numerous times to the region to save other young men and has become an expert on resistance to violent Islamic radicalism.
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Bontinck has become something of a minor celebrity in his own country and his story has even been retold in The New Yorker and on CNN. The relevance of Bontinck's story was reinforced last month when a 16-year-old German girl was found fighting alongside the Islamic State in Iraq. At least half of Rescued from ISIS is dedicated to similar stories where youth were recruited through social media and clever marketing, radicalized and sent to Syria or Iraq to fight.
Bontinck recounts his efforts to help many families trying to reclaim their own children, but his son was one of the few success stories. Not all of the radicalized young men and women were as willing to leave as was his own.
While Bontinck's story is compelling, the telling of it is not. The book too often lets loose platitudes such as "love wins over hate" and rushes through pivotal moments that should have been given more attention. For example, the escape of Bontinck's son from Syria while sitting on the back of a motorcycle should have been an adrenaline pumping play-by-play, but was covered in only one page. It was then followed by a rather prosaic telling of the father and son reunion. The book is surprisingly short on drama.
Rescued from Isis feels disjointed and seems to take on to much, leaving many rescue attempts thinly told, but going into detail on the trade in stolen antiquities and even recounting a sexual encounter that adds nothing to the story. It sounded like simple boasting.
Finally, the story is almost exclusively told from Bontinck's point of view and we learn very little of Joe's time with ISIS. There may be a reason for that, but as a reader we're left to wonder why.
Bontinck recounts the changes in his son's attitudes, personality, and demeanor. Yet he retained a belief in his son's goodness and held out hope that he could bring him home, withdrawing him from the toxic environment of radical Islam. It took several trips. He suffered capture and torture and risked his life by his presence and persistence. He did get his son home, and became known as the guy who could bring home kids who have fled with ISIS.
As I read Rescued from ISIS, I felt like it was a cautionary tale. On the level of parenthood, as Bontinck discovered, you have to be prepared for just about anything. As I write, my wife is gathering the last of my son's things for his dorm; he's off to college tomorrow. The reality is, kids grow up and start making their own decisions and choosing their own paths. I don't see my son choosing Islam and fighting in Syria, but neither did Bontinck. I appreciated his constant love for and dedication to his son, even when he rebelled against and rejected everything his family stood for.
On a broader scale, Rescued from ISIS is a cautionary tale for the West. The Bontincks live in Belgium, which has turned into a recruiting ground for ISIS. Cities across Europe, and, indeed, around the world, are experiencing the same thing. Teens are given an idealistic vision of Islam and ISIS and recruited to fight in the Middle East and, potentially, in their own countries. I would like to believe my Texas town is exempt from such a movement, but then I see the Islamic center down the street, the students at my kids' schools wearing hijabs, the families at the grocery store in full Middle Eastern garb. I realize we live in a melting pot, and I realize that the odds are overwhelming that these are peaceful families, good neighbors, and faithful American citizens. But it only takes a sliver of a population to be a radicalizing force. One small group can touch those vulnerable lives and disrupt families and communities. As Bontinck discovered, it's naive to ignore the connection between a growing Muslim presence in a community and the presence of ISIS recruiters.
Rescued from ISIS is exciting to read, but painful at the same time, as the author's son and other young people are damaged and taken from their families. Not all of them make it back. Rescued from ISIS is a challenge to parents to be aware of the religious and social foundation you provide in your home, and to Western culture to hold true to the democratic and religious foundations that have made us great. God forbid we lose a generation to Muslim extremism.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!